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The Year in Film — A Look at Ten of the Best

The Year in Film -- A Look at Ten of the Best

by Danny Lorber

Art and ingenuity were admirably reached for by filmmakers in both the
indie and studio ranks in ’98, maybe even more ardently than in recent
years. But if ingenuity was displayed often, art was pretty rare. There
were a lot of good films this year, but not too many great ones. That
said, timely and curious themes and trends were apparent in the movies
that we saw this year (World War II, media allegories, child
molestation, political scandals and sophomoric humor) and more
individual movies spawned national debate than in any year in recent
memory. In this day and age, when the impact that movies can have is so
often diffused by the overwhelming force of the salacious, sexy, sleazy
and stupid that other mediums constantly offer, any national debate
spawned by film is an exciting thing. Here’s a list of the best films of
the year, some of which provided for national debate and timely irony
and others that were just darn good while no one cared. As for the worst
films of the year, no list will be displayed, although Gus Van Sant’s
miserably unoriginal and boring re-make of “Psycho” would top it if one

The Best Films of 1998:

1. THE TRUMAN SHOW: Director Peter Weir and screenwriter Andrew
Niccol’s fantasy was described by most as an allegory for our media
crazed times. While that is indeed true, the film was infinitely more
interesting when looked at as a “Twilight Zone”- inspired horror story
about a man who discovers he’s as utterly alone as a human being can be.
Weir’s trademark shot – shooting from the sky as if his camera were God
looking down from above – is put to wonderful use here. In one
breathtaking scene, Weir captures Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank walking
through his contrived hometown of Seahaven, and as he walks, he slowly
realizes that his life is a sham, that nothing he’s ever known is true.
The sequence was the most magically cinematic of any this year, and “The
Truman Show” was the most hypnotically lyrical film Hollywood has
released in this decade.

2. THE CELEBRATION: Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s debut film,
shot with an electrifying hand held camera and featuring perfectly cast
actors performing a beautifully fluid script, was a devastating drama
that succeeded perfectly without hyperbole or excess. A family drama
about coming terms with family truths, Vinterberg went back to the
basics to tell his story, which are to write a strong script, hire great
actors, turn on a camera and shoot, shoot, shoot. “The Celebration” was
a huge feat of organic cinema.

3. BULWORTH: Warren Beatty’s film was fueled with so much passion that
one forgives it for being such a mess. A flawed film that seemed more
like a work in progress than a finished movie, “Bulworth” none the less
made for a mesmerizing experience. It was obvious yet ingenious, profane
yet profound, sleazy yet sexy, self conscious yet very proud. Beatty
made a film with something large on its mind and he was certainly not
afraid to take chances. The clear passion that went into the film’s
conception – and its willingness to get back up and fight when it
embarrassed itself – was inspiring in this day and age of soulless movie
making. “Bulworth” was that rare studio film that not only ripped past
Hollywood’s conservative boundaries but relished in unpopular cultural

4. FALLEN ANGELS: Wong Kar Wai’s latest Hong Kong foray – brought to
gorgeous life by Wong’s brilliant cinematographer Christopher Doyle –
played a much darker hand than the director’s earlier “Chungking
Express” did in conjuring up a world of urban isolation, loneliness and
beautiful people wallowing in solitude and hoping for any kind of human
companionship. Wong is the godfather of world cinema’s neo-new wave: his
films replace traditional narrative with an expose’ on human emotion.
His characters are lonely in the way the city makes one feel alone : his
characters live with out connection, they’re left with only heavy
feelings and fleeting passions that get lost in the neon of the city’s
unforgiving nights.

5. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN: Steven Spielberg’s World War II epic was in some
respects so masterful and indelible, that it’s a shame that it’s not at
the top of this last. In terms of pure film making brilliance, very few
films in the medium’s history have ever touched the impact that the
great scenes of battle have here. And while the script that holds the
film together is not up to par with the its visual and audio aesthetics,
the story was a lot better and more mature than the film’s detractors
said it was. Unfortunately, Spielberg still shows an unwillingness to
trust both his art and his audience’s intelligence. He beats us over the
head so often (most conspicuously in the film’s unforgivably cheesy book
ends) that we feel insulted. “Saving Private Ryan” was closer to a
masterpiece than any other film was this year. It was painful to watch
it fall short.

6. SONATINE: With both “Fireworks” and this beautifully rendered
existential gangster film released by Miramax this year, Japanese mega
talent Takeshi Kitano emerges as a major artist in the international
film scene. While “Fireworks” was the more talked about film, this
harrowing story was more ambiguous and curious – a triumph of mood and
dark beauty.

7. TASTE OF CHERRY: A bleak Iranian tale about a desperate man searching
the country side for someone to bury his body after he kills himself,
director Abbas Kiarostami made a mystery of sorts. He offered no clues
about the strange, hopeless character he created. All that we saw was a
horrible sadness. We asked ourselves “what happened to this man? Where
did his hope go?” The answers were never really offered, we were left
thinking and thinking.

8. BUFFALO 66: Vincent Gallo’s overt pomposity is really unbearable, but
his debut film as a writer/director was as fresh an American indie as
any other released this year. Anger and depression over a person’s roots
is captured quite meaningfully here. Gallo’s loser character goes back
home after a stint in jail to make sure that he was correct about one
thing: that he never had a chance.

9. A SIMPLE PLAN: Sam Raimi completely altered his style with this
patient and highly expert thriller about the consequences of certain
choices people make. In the film, evil was exposed in characters who
never thought they had it in them, and in fantastic turns by Billy Bob
Thornton and Bill Paxton, the shock of how easy it is for us to turn
cruel was made hauntingly real.

10. OUT OF SIGHT: Steven Soderbergh’s slick and sexy thriller was an
example of a genre film made with soul and savvy. Wonderful chemistry
between George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez was a great reminder of how
enjoyable it is to watch strictly cinematic love develop on screen. And
that much talked about sex scene was worth all of the buzz it got –
lustful mutual attraction and clever foreplay has rarely been dramatized
as palpably as it was here.

Honorable Mention ( in no order):

The Cruise, Life is Beautiful, The Farm: Angola, U.S.A., Rushmore,
Affliction, The Butcher Boy, Love and Death on Long Island, Your Friends
and Neighbors, Fireworks, The Spanish Prisoner, Pi, Another Day in
Paradise, Mrs. Dalloway, Primary Colors, The Eel, The General, and Love
Is The Devil.

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